JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO- LACKLAND, Texas – When guidance initially came out that personnel on base would start wearing face coverings when within six feet of each other, one Air National Guard member with a personal 3D printer figured he could help.
Staff Sgt. Paul Renker, a 149th Fighter Wing hydraulics technician, quickly stepped up to assist those who needed to adapt to the guidance quickly but did not have a suitable face covering on hand.
“I’ve always tried to help other people if I can,” Renker said. “I also wanted to prove to myself and to my family the worth of buying a 3D printer in the first place because it has been printing baby Yodas and random stuff, so now that I actually have a useful purpose for it, it’s pretty cool.”
After Renker gave away his first 3D printed mask to a co-worker, word soon spread to his leadership who then asked him if he would make as many as he could.
Renker decided to ask some of the members from his squadron’s aircraft metals technology shop — more commonly known as the machine shop — if they wanted to help print some out too. They did.
“Before I got my 3D printer, I went over there a lot to learn from them because their shop has one, so I developed a good rapport with them,” Renker said. “With those guys being over there, I knew they would want to help too.”
When newer command-directed guidance specific to 149th Fighter Wing members came out stating that coverings should be solid in color or of current service camouflage pattern, Renker and the machine shop members once again began printing masks, this time of solid color.
Members were given some time to adjust to the changes, but were asked by their wing leadership, in the interim, to enlist assistance from their supervision if they did not have something readily available. Thanks to Renker and the machine shop staff’s volunteer efforts, supervisors have been able to provide an easy way to meet the guidance, which, in turn, allows personnel to stay focused on the F-16 flying mission without having to stress about where they can find a proper face covering.
“A lot of us already have (3D printing) machines at home as part of our hobbies,” said Master Sgt. Carlos Gil, 149th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technology. “We’re able to print at home so that way we don’t interfere with the flying mission.”
Gil said even though it preoccupies a large part of his home time, he loves what he does and that it feels patriotic to him. He also believes strongly in the popular prevention adage.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Gil said. “It’s better to have one than not have one. They are here for anyone that needs one, and I’m going to keep doing it until we are told to stop.”